Practices for Growth, Part Two: Lean In and Let Go

By Michaela O’Donnell

November 6, 2020

De Pree Journal

This is part two in a series on Practices for Growth, find the first part here.

It’s been a year of waiting.

Waiting for COVID to be over. Waiting for a vaccine. Waiting for justice. Waiting to see what would happen in the election. In the economy. In our neighborhoods. With our jobs. In our workplaces. Around the dinner table at the holidays.

It’s been a year of bracing ourselves.

Bracing ourselves for loss. Bracing ourselves for grief. Bracing ourselves for more waiting. For more change. For too much change.

Several years ago, I learned the hard way why bracing for change can backfire. My husband Dan and I were driving in our beaten-up SUV to a friend’s house to watch basketball. We were only a half-mile from our house when a large truck turned left into the side of our car. The impact was so intense that our car flipped on its head. All of our windows were shattered, the roof was smashed in, and we were hanging upside down, strapped in by our seatbelts. My window was too compressed to escape from. A man whose name I’ll never know pulled us out of the driver’s side window and we were rushed to the trauma center of our local hospital.

Right before we got hit, time literally stood still. I can still remember feeling like I was waiting to get hit. I can still remember bracing myself for the crash. I don’t understand how so much happened in that millisecond. But as I’ve talked with other crash victims since, I’ve learned that it’s a common experience. Time does, for whatever reason, stand still.

In that millisecond before the impact, Dan turned to me and said, “We’re about to get hit. Lean in and let go!”

His advice was that of a skier who had been trained to take impact with grace. Dan grew up on the mountains in Salt Lake where he learned that absorbing impact with grace was critical to success on the mountain. Falling in this way requires physically letting go and relaxing your muscles. By contrast, if you try and brace for a fall, your tight muscles lead to more pain and lasting injuries. But, if you lean in and let go in the fact of impact, you can endure most of what can happen on the mountain.

This skill—this leaning in and letting go—was something Dan had to learn. Something he had to practice and get good at over time. That’s why in the car that day Dan could lean in and let go but I could not. I had not grown up on the mountain cultivating the instinct to relax my muscles in the face of fear. I had not grown up learning how to lean in and let go when I sensed impact coming. I’m convinced that the difference in our preparedness is why I have lasting injuries from that crash and Dan does not.

Leaning in and letting go is something most of us have to work at. In the face of so much change and so much waiting, we indeed have the opportunity to cultivate this skill. So, what does it look like to train our hearts, minds, and bodies to lean in and let go in this season?

We carry so much of our stress about the unknown in our bodies. Whether it’s about our work, or our family, or the state of global affairs, consider this practice below as a means to check in with yourself, attune to God, and cultivate the capacity to lean in and let go. Like with someone learning to ski, this practice (and the noticing that comes from it) gets more intuitive the more we practice it.

Consider this: what are you bracing yourself for? Where might God be inviting you to lean in and let go? 

Materials Needed: Just you and some quiet space
Time: 5-10 minutes (I do this at least once a day!)

  1. Starting with the top of your head and working your way all the way down to your toes, spend a few minutes doing a body scan. Notice areas of tension or exhaustion. Notice if your heart is racing or if you feel thirsty. Notice what your body is saying. Notice what your body is holding.
  2. Take several deep breaths, offering each of your observations to God. As you exhale, do your best to let go of whatever you’re holding on to. You might also ask God for any insight about what your body is holding.
  3. Speak out loud or write in a journal what you noticed and what your observations might reveal about how you’re feeling. Ask God for help wherever you feel the need to.

This is part two in a series on Practices for Growth, find the first part here.

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Michaela O’Donnell

Mary and Dale Andringa Executive Director

Michaela is the Mary and Dale Andringa Executive Director Chair at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership. She is also an assistant professor of marketplace leadership and the lead professor for Fuller Seminary’s Doctor of Global Leadership, Redemptive Imagination in the Marketplace progr...

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